Reading through the blog site it appears winter is a time for reflection, although I am new to the season.  I have postponed my conclusion with this job and inevitable winter experience by traveling south for a few weeks of sunshine and play.  While I’m cresting my third year as an Oregonian, up from the tropics of Hawai’i, I still seem to resist winter as a part of my annual cycle.  I initially dreaded the arrival of chapped lips and obligatory coats, but I found myself rooting for the season when I arrived back home this year. The balmy month of January and my memories of dry, warm December had me pulling for the underdog to at least not make an embarrassment of itself.  True to form, the season saluted me with the coldest day of the year my first day back at work.

I could read into this as an omen that one cannot escape winter, that it eventually must come to pass, but come on.  We’re scientists. That stuffs for tarot cards and horoscopes (which, by the way, is totally cool if that’s what you’re into.  I’m sure you could find a great reading from half the residents of my town, Ashland, OR, but I digress).  Regardless, here I am on an assuredly wintery day writing a reflection on the year past.

I have decided, after this rather rambling introduction, to actually present my reflection as a poem.  However before finishing I need to thank Stacy, my mentor, and my coworkers, Sienna & Shannon, who are bright spots as human beings.   So without further ado, here is my haiku:

Collecting summer’s seeds,

Despite the strain to obtain,

Brings warmth in winter.


Signing Out

Eight months ago, all I knew was that I had accepted a job in Buffalo, Wyoming. I knew I would stay at least five months, I knew I’d be moving into an apartment with a perfect stranger, and I was entirely uncertain of what my internship responsibilities would include. I had lived in remote places before, and I had lived outside of my home state prior to May 2017, but this move felt especially intimidating. I had never been to Wyoming, but I was very aware of the vast cultural differences I would likely encounter between the conservative Western state from my urban homeland of New York.

Upon arriving in Buffalo and showing up to my field office for the first day of work, the other CLM interns and myself were thrown head-first into the field season. Training after training, deciphering protocols for the various field methods and databases we were expected to know, learning the names of our office coworkers and USDA plant codes; there was never a dull moment, and there was always something needing to be done.

My time spent in the field was met with a variety of interesting challenges: interacting with landowners who make their vehement animosity toward federal agencies known; explaining ecological concepts to folks who are certain sagebrush is an invasive species to the American West (**it’s not**); diffusing contentious conversations that inevitably arise within a crew containing an array of personalities; learning to identify Carex and Poa species for the first time. These tasks were absolutely a strain on my mental and physical wellbeing, but nonetheless served as indispensable growing experiences that have allowed my communication, professional, and botany skills to expand beyond horizons I initially could not see. Of course, my  coworkers were instrumental in this journey which has allowed me to reflect and grow in the way I’ve just described. My mentor, Bill, gave myself and his other mentees the laissez-faire approach we needed to navigate our way through this internship, but was also more than helpful when we needed guidance. Dominic, my crew-lead and absolute MVP of the field season, was encouraging and excellent company at each of the forty-something remote field sites we visited last summer. Not to mention the countless other employees at the Buffalo Field Office that have adopted me as their intern since October and allowed me to participate in the work that they do (Rachel, Charlotte, Wyatt, Chris, etc.) I am fully aware of how fortunate I was to have been placed in such an inclusive office, at the foothills of a mountain range, and within close proximity to several national parks, forests, and monuments.

I know I’ve written about this before, so please pardon my redundancy, but even with all of the skills I’ve gained and experiences I’ve had since accepting this internship, I feel my greatest and most rewarding accomplishment has simply been living here. Making a home in a place I never felt I would fit, filling a niche I was certain wouldn’t exist for someone like me, has allowed me to realize just how parochial my worldview was eight months ago before I embarked westward. No place is perfect, but I am proud of myself for not only living in Buffalo, but for also making myself feel at home in a place I never thought I could. I managed to befriend people both inside and outside of my workplace, climb the highest peak in the Bighorns, see a mountain lion run along the Powder River as I waded upstream, hold a horned toad, camp underneath a starry sky in Medicine Bowe, stumble upon a free jazz concert somewhere in Montana, and I can’t remember feeling as if I had missed an opportunity or circumscribed myself to a comfort zone.

Shadowing employees from Fish & Game while mist-netting for bats. I believe this one was a northern long-eared.

Forcing my dad to try hiking in Wyoming.

Outside of Casper, Wyoming awaiting the 2017 solar eclipse with friends, David & Martín.

BFO Wildlife Biologist, Chris, observing bighorn sheep licking the minerals off our truck outside of Jackson, WY.

Moonrise over the appropriately named Mistymoon Lake after summiting Cloud Peak in the Bighorn Mountains.

Moving forward.

I feel an appropriate way to end this blog post, along with my internship, is to borrow words from CLM intern Tyler Rose: “I don’t know if I truly understand all the ways in which I grew through this internship…I do know, however, just how inspired I feel to continue to go forth and engage in conservation as a full-time focus of my life.”

As I try to express my gratitude for this internship and programs like CLM, as I anticipate the wave of sadness that will overcome me as I drive toward the California coast in a few weeks, and as I continue to imagine what the coming months will look like while I acquaint myself with a new place and a new job, I know I will always have my time in Wyoming to look back on and my ambitions as a conservation biologist to motivate me as I inevitably move forward.

Some of the memories from my time in Buffalo are more fond than others, but all are meaningful, and each has contributed to forming this experience I’ve just had and the experiences I will have when I leave. Again, a thank you to CLM, the BFO, and anyone who has been reading these. Its been a pleasure.

Signing out —

Elyna Grapstein

CLM Intern - Buffalo Field Office, Bureau of Land Management

January 8th, 2018

Behold: A Frozen Rare Plant

Wyoming’s desert yellowhead (Yermo xanthocephalus) is the rarest of Wyoming’s four listed threatened plants.

It seems odd that any monitoring can really be done in a foot of snow, but not every state can be geographically located to have sunshine 360 days a year. While other states would likely call it quits the minute the precip charts start to stir (looking at you California), leave it to Wyoming to put on the gaiters and saddle up (yee-haw). And so, with a foot of snow on the ground, off we went into the badlands of Wyoming to monitor cheatgrass at one of the county’s only documented Yermo sites.

What in the world is Yermo? Nobody knew until 1990, when Robert Dorn, Wyoming’s very own resident plant expert, discovered the first population. When Dorn first came across the plant in spring he suspected it might be a new species of milkweed based on its leathery leaves and waxy yellow buds. When he returned to collect it in June he was surprised to find that the plant was actually a member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae or Compositae) and not a milkweed at all! He noticed that the floral bracts were quite unusual in being bright yellow rather than green and leafy as in 99% of all other composites. Dorn realized that he had not only a new species, but also a new and undescribed genus. The plant was given the the name Yermo xanthocephalus by Dorn in 1991; yermo meaning “desert” in Spanish, and xanthocephalus translating as “yellow head”.*

Still, desert yellowhead remains known only from Dorn’s original population, despite extensive searching for suitable habitat. It was listed as threatened by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act in 2002.Today it is known as the rarest of Wyoming’s four listed endangered plants, being known in Fremont County, WY and nowhere else.

So you might understand why, even with a foot of snow on the ground, I was pretty excited to head out and uncover this thing. We hiked about a mile in and as we approached, I realized that I wasn’t dressed for the occasion. As we got closer our target area, at the foot of a large butte, my feet and ankles slowly began to freeze and I had vague visions of my mentor hauling me out, my embarrassment surpassed only by the disappointment of not getting to see the plant. But thoughts of my frozen limbs disappeared when I heard her excited shout. How she could find and recognize this remarkably rare plant in all the snow was beyond me, but I wasted no time asking questions and rushed over to behold the plant for myself.

Approaching the Yermo population

What I saw was akin to a frozen plant skeleton. Completely unspectacular and unremarkable in any way to the untrained eye. Partially buried in the snow, the plant had one to five stems up to 1 foot tall. Its leaves were alternate and slightly oval to lance shaped about 1 1/2 to 10 inches long, and often folded at the midvein. I learned that the plant grows new shoots each year from an overwintering taproot and usually begins flowering in late June and continues to flower over the entire growing season. Its unique among Wyoming composites in having bright yellow floral bracts that resemble a series of fleshy bananas, although it all looked dead and brown when we saw it.

Not much to look in the winter, but this little guy is actually doing pretty well here!

No one knows how long desert yellowhead can live. Long term studies have shown that population numbers fluctuate from year to year. We visited this population to monitor cheatgrass observed nearby. Although no cheatgrass was found among the plants, we did find some nearby. This could be worrying because cheatgrass is invasive and if established, could outcompete this delicate population. Management decisions today could easily influence this threatened species.

Its easy to see how this little plant could easily get overlooked and why some might question large efforts to remove and control invasive grasses in areas where no cattle grazing exists, however the BLM recognizes that plant conservation and protection is essential to sustain the ecological, economic, and aesthetic values of our public lands. For this effort, the Wyoming BLM is preparing a desert yellowhead conservation strategy in coordination with local, state, and other federal agencies.

No Yermo up on top, just amazing views!

Now that my season is wrapping up, I’m looking forward to the next adventure. In two weeks I’ll be leaving for Sacramento, where I’ll be working with the Bureau of Reclamation on water use policy. It’ll be important to remember all the pieces in the puzzle. From the many sagebrush all the way to the lone Yermo.

Gwen Robson, Lander BLM

* Bureau of Land Management. “Wyoming’s Threatened and Endangered Plant Species: Desert Yellowhead”. U.S. Department of the Interior.


Bittersweet Goodbye to Idaho

For the past five months, I have been interning at the Caribou-Targhee National Forest in eastern Idaho. The focus of my botany internship was a region-wide seed collection project. Brittni, the other CBG intern, and I conducted field surveys and seed collecting/processing of native plant species that were beneficial for pollinators and sage-grouse. We are based out of the Caribou-Targhee NF Forest Supervisor’s Office (SO) in Idaho Falls, ID and work on the CTNF, Bridger-Teton National Forest, southern portion of the Sawtooth National Forest, and northern Uinta-Wasatch-Cache NF.

We made 30+ collections of Erigeron speciosus seeds across the Caribou-Targhee NF, Bridger-Teton NF, Sawtooth NF, and Uinta-Wastach-Cache NF.

I was especially drawn to this job for the opportunities to explore these incredible National Forests. Besides our primary duties associated with the seed collection project, we surveyed and tagged monarch butterflies on the Curlew National Grassland; assisted with the coordination of volunteer seed collection and restoration events; surveyed rare plants; and assisted with botany and pollinator educational and conservation projects. We also got to work with the other specialists on the Forest: we helped the range specialist with Sage-Grouse Habitat Assessment plots; accompanied the soil scientist to inspect fuel treatment burn piles and  timber harvests; toured a Paleo-Indian archeological dig with the archeologists; participate in stream restoration projects with the hydrologists and fish biologist; and transplant sedges, plant sagebrush, and broadcast seed various restoration projects with many of the experts above.

Collecting point transect data for Sage-Grouse Habitat Assessment plots on the Caribou-Targhee NF.

Rose Lehman, our supervisor and the CTNF botanist, insisted on giving us the fullest experience and exposure to every facet of the FS through our internship. For example, my interests lay more in forestry and forest restoration, so she sent Brittni and I to forest restoration conference in Utah for two days. We also participated in the Idaho Climate Summit, meetings discussing rare plants for the Salmon-Challis NF, meetings for the soil inventory of the CTNF with the NRCS, and many other opportunities that enhanced our internship.

Castilleja sp. and Pedicularis groenlandica found while giving a Native Plant Walk to members of the Teton Land Trust and Master Naturalists.

Through this internship I have grown tremendously, both professionally and personally. I have gained experience and knowledge in a wide variety of topics relating to natural resources. My botany skills are far superior to when I started; I am more comfortable using dichotomous keys and am no longer “grass blind.” I am not afraid to ask questions, and more importantly, am not embarrassed for not knowing things. The latter was a difficult lesson for me to learn. For about a month and a half I was constantly frustrated with myself for not instantly learning every plant on the Forest; I had forgotten how difficult it was to work in a new ecosystem because all my previous experience was focused in one ecotype. I also have gained an increased confidence in my abilities and knowledge, and am less afraid to voice them. I have to remind myself that I do have important, relevant, and useful insight. Lastly, I have learned to be realistic about a situation: to set achievable goals and be realistic about the limitations (this is especially important in the context of working with the Forest Service where they operate as a multiple-use agency with many stakeholders and under various regulations).

Wildfire smoke creating a hazy sunset on the Bridger-Teton NF.

Lastly, I would like to thank both Rose and CBG for being so incredibly flexible and encouraging of me taking time to travel to Oregon and Freiburg, Germany to give presentations on research I did as an undergraduate. The conferences focused on forest regeneration and forestry in general, and were invaluable experience for me as a young scientist.

An abundance of wildflowers, including, Castilleja sp., Agastache urticifolia, Geranium viscosissimum, Delphinium sp., Erigeron speciosus, and many more.

It is very bittersweet to leave the CTNF, I am going to miss Brittni and Rose and all the amazing people I got to work with, and I will especially miss the beautiful forests and rangeland of eastern Idaho.

On one of our final days of fieldwork took us on a hike through gorgeous fall foliage.

Farewell Boise

Its been a great 10 months working in beautiful Idaho as an aspiring botanist (native seed intern)! Five of those months were spent camping out  in Idahos national forests, scouting for plant populations and collecting seeds! One of my favorite parts about this job was getting to explore the diverse habitats of Idaho and learning new plant species!! We made a total of 70 seed collections from 5 different species (Douglas’ dustymaiden (Chaenactis douglasii), nettleleaf giant hyssop (Agastache urticifolia), silverleaf phacelia (Phacelia hastata), showy fleabane (Erigeron speciosus) and hoary tansyaster (Machaeranthera canescens).These species were chosen for their benefit to sage grouse chicks and pollinators. In addition, these plants have wide distributions throughout the Intermountain Region, growing in a variety of habitats from low elevation desert scrub to subalpine dry meadows. Not only did I get to find the populations, monitor them and collect them, but as I wrap up my internship, I also am participating in cleaning the seed at a nursery and placing the collections in cold storage. I also got to use my GIS skills, making maps of the populations and use our data to model distributions. It’s been an amazing experience, I will miss Boise and the plants!!

Collecting Erigeron speciosus seed in the Sawtooth National Forest!


View from one of our populations in the Salmon-Challis National Forest

My favorite forest (Payette National Forest), this particual area near Hazard Lake was covered in carpets of wild flowers!!

Clarkia sp.












Corallorhiza maculata

Pedicularis sp.